Aeschynanthus (Gesneriaceae), a genus comprising approximately 160 species in subtropical Southeast Asia, has red, tubular flowers, typical of a sunbird pollination syndrome. A. acuminatus, the species that is distributed extending to the northern edge of the genus, where the specialized nectarivorous sunbirds are absent, possesses reddish-green flowers and a wide-open corolla tube, flowering time shifts from summer to winter and the species achieves high fruiting success. This atypical flower led us to investigate the pollination biology of this species. Three species of generalist passerines, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta (Alcippe morrisonia, Sylviidae), White-eared Sibia (Heterophasia auricularis, Leiothrichidae) and Taiwan Yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps, Zosteropidae), were recorded visiting A. acuminatus flowers. Pollination effectiveness was quantified via conspecific pollen presence on stigmas and natural fruit set. The significantly high natural fruit set (60%) and conspecific pollen transfer rate (94%) indicate high reproductive success facilitated by the accurate pollen placement on the birds. The existence of copious (61 µL) and highly diluted (7%) hexose-dominant nectar, together with a major reflectance peak of corolla lobe in the long-wavelength red color spectrum, is consistent with the pollination syndrome of generalist passerines. The high pollination effectiveness of A. acuminatus due to the recruitment of generalist passerines as pollinators, and the specializations of floral traits to match generalist bird pollination, appear crucial in the successful colonization on islands such as Taiwan that lack specialized bird pollinators.
Effective pollination of Aeschynanthus acuminatus (Gesneriaceae) by generalist passerines, in sunbird-absent East Asia
Publication: Scientific Reports (Nature Research)